#121 The Lavender Hill Mob

(1951, Charles Crichton)

“I was a potential millionaire, yet I had to be satisfied with eight pounds, fifteen shillings”

As much as I like to try and be proud of films produced in my own country, there are times, particularly looking at some of our older movies, where it’s difficult to do so. While more recent offerings have been on a par with some of the best Hollywood has had to offer over the years, some of our earlier attempts were a little lacking in my opinion. The Lavender Hill Mob fails to convince me otherwise.

It stars Alex Guinness as a seemingly mild-mannered and loyal bank employee named Holland, often responsible with recording gold deliveries and making sure they get where they need to safely. However, he secretly has plans to pull a robbery using his insider knowledge to his advantage, but currently lacks the right assistance. Low and behold, a man named Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway) moves into the same flat block as him and Holland finds that he could prove a big help thanks to connections in Paris. The two, plus two professional thieves that they recruit (Sid James and Alfie Bass), begin to hatch their plans, but then things don’t necessarily go as they intended.

The thing that bugged me more than anything else about the movie was that, although billed as a comedy (one of many of the supposedly esteemed “Ealing Comedies” of the 50s), I laughed exactly once during the film’s eighty minute running time. Maybe it’s a generational issue, but nothing in the movie felt all that funny to me. And for a movie about incompetent criminals, that’s kind of a let-down, since there is a lot to work with here.

Then again, even as a crime movie, I found myself a little confused about their plan. Sure, I got that they were planning on stealing gold, melting it down and converting it into small Eiffel Tower statues to send to Paris, where they could be retrieved, but beyond that, I didn’t quite understand it. I’m not sure why the theft of gold would be useless without exporting it, and I was also unclear what they intended to do with the golden towers once they picked them up in France.

Again, maybe it’s a generational thing, and my lack of identification with the film comes from being born 35 years after it came out, but even then, things just don’t seem to add up for me.

Even on its basic level, the movie feels poorly paced. For a start, I found it hard to believe how everyone was so relaxed about the idea of committing a major crime when the idea was presented to them. There was also the fact that the plot just seemed to leap around all over the place, as if it was made up as it went along. The events didn’t really flow cohesively, and I spent more time wondering where on earth the movie was trying to go, which was distracting.

There were also some sequences that just seemed to drag. The quite frankly bizarre scene where Holland and Pendlebury run down a spiral staircase on the Eiffel Tower laughing constantly which seemed more like something out of a David Lynch movie, and the sequence at customs that was the same joke repeated endlessly until it became tedious. Ho ho they’re being delayed by customs! And again! And again! And yet a-bloody-gain…

Yet again, maybe the film’s age works against it. It does feel very dated, especially with references to £10 being a lot of money and grown adults singing along to “Old McDonald Had a Farm” as if that was the thing people do. And yet again, it suffers from that stuffy acting that most pre-1980 British movies seem to suffer from.

I wanted to like The Lavender Hill Mob since I’d heard so much good about the Ealing Comedies, but ultimately I left with an overwhelming sense of boredom. It really wasn’t all that special to be honest.

Starring Alec Guinness, Stanley Holloway, Sid James & Alfie Bass
Written by T.E.B. Clarke
Produced by Michael Balcon
Music by Georges Auric
Cinematography by Douglas Slocombe
Edited by Seth Holt

Favourite Scene: Sid James pops up and reveals himself to be on board to the rest of the team who don’t even know he’s there.
Scene That Bugged Me: That Eiffel Tower sequence. Why are you laughing constantly?! Stop!

Watch it if: You’re curious about the Ealing Comedies
Avoid it if: You want a genuinely funny comedy


Posted on September 25, 2012, in 1950s, Comedy, United Kingdom and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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